NAPLES – Drivers in a caravan of antique cars honked their horns and waved to the hundreds of onlookers who hung over the rail of the new bridge between Brandy Pond and Long Lake on Friday afternoon.

The cars were the last ever to cross the 60-year-old swing bridge at Naples’ causeway, which was deteriorated and had to be replaced.

A concrete bridge built next to it opened to traffic Friday — a significant milestone in an $11 million upgrade to the causeway on Route 302.

The project, which includes new sidewalks and a sea wall, is scheduled for completion next spring, but could be finished by the fall, said Craig Hurd, project engineer for the Maine Department of Transportation.

At a parade and ribbon-cutting ceremony on this sunny Friday, there was no evidence that the bridge replacement had once divided the town.

Dan Allen, owner of the Causeway Marina, initially opposed the project. But he said most people, like him, have changed their minds about the new bridge, especially now that they can see it.

“It’s awesome,” he said.

When the Department of Transportation decided that it wouldn’t replace the aging bridge with another swing bridge, Allen and others worried that the new fixed-span bridge would prevent boats from going between Long Lake and Brandy Pond, and hurt the causeway’s economy.

As a compromise, he said, the Department of Transportation designed a higher bridge, about 12.5 feet above the water, which can accommodate all but a handful of boats.

Other opponents, who grew up with the swing bridge, simply resisted the change.

Dea Dea Robbins and Marcia Tripp, lifelong Naples residents, weren’t among them. The sisters, who ate bowls of ice cream on the causeway Friday as they waited for the ceremony to start, said they’re glad they won’t have to wait in traffic anymore during the summer. The swing bridge opened every two hours to let boats pass.

“It’s a wonderful thing for our town to change and convert,” said Tripp, 65. “It’s keeping up with the times and it’s keeping it quaint.”

Many believe the improvements will draw more people to the area. A boardwalk along the sea wall, once complete, will be lined with benches, and an amphitheater on the water’s edge will host outdoor concerts.

Deputy Transportation Commissioner Bruce Van Note, one of several officials who spoke to the crowd Friday, said most of the drivers who used to stop on the causeway had no choice — they had to wait for the bridge.

Now, he said, “they’ll stop because they want to.”

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

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